WILL Press Release | WILL Attorneys Testify on DPI/ESSA Oversight Bill

Speak on importance of ESSA’s state plan, authority of legislature to enact reform, and legal concerns with DPI

April 20, 2017 – Milwaukee, WI – WILL attorneys CJ Szafir and Libby Sobic testified in front of the Wisconsin Assembly Committee on Education for informational purposes only about Assembly Bill 233, which would give the state legislature some oversight on the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) in drafting of the state plan for the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).  The full testimony can be found here.

Passed by Congress in December 2015 with bipartisan support, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is the new – and massive – federal law governing K-12 education, replacing No Child Left Behind.  In order to comply with ESSA, Wisconsin must submit a state plan to the U.S. Department of Education on September 18, 2017.  This plan will go a long way towards setting education policy for Wisconsin.  For example, a state plan must do the following:

  • Develop a statewide federal accountability system for public schools and students,
  • Identify low-performing public schools,
  • Determine the state’s “rigorous actions” for intervention in low-performing public schools, and
  • Detail the methods to measure teacher and school leader effectiveness.

Other states have used the ESSA requirements to advance education reform.  In Florida, the state legislature recently introduced a bill to satisfy the ESSA requirement for “rigorous action” that would incentivize successful charter school operators to open charter schools in areas with low-performing public schools.  New Mexico’s state plan, for example, mandates school districts do one of the following actions for any low-performing schools:  close the school, close and reopen the school under a charter school operator, create more educational options for parents at the school including public charter, magnet, private and online learning, or significantly restructure and redesign the school, i.e. staff changes or extending instructional time.

ESSA also gives school districts and states greater discretion over the spending of Title I funds – federal dollars for low-income children – to improve low-performing schools.  This has tremendous opportunity for innovation.  Wisconsin can set aside federal dollars for competitive grants for low-performing schools and/or expand educational options for low-income children all across the state.

The Wisconsin legislature can make these things happen and does not need to defer to the Department of Public Instruction.  It is unquestionable that the legislature is within its constitutional and statutory power to require legislative oversight of Wisconsin’s state plan, such as the passage of law that mandates formal review of the plan or dictating certain provisions of the state plan.

Yet legal concerns remain with how the DPI is proceeding with the state plan. Because the ESSA state plan includes policy decisions that are binding on Wisconsin’s schools and teachers, much of the ESSA state plan must be promulgated by regulation.  This includes a statement of scope and going through passive review to the relevant legislative committees.  In February, WILL – along with the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) – wrote a letter to State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers outlining our concerns.

If DPI ignores these legal obligations, it invites a legal challenge to the state plan.

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